One of the most influential books I’ve ever read in my life was 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, by Laura Vanderkam. That’s the book that taught me a ton about efficency, including that I needed to start dragging my butt out of bed at 5:30am if I truly wanted to get things done.
A few months ago, I asked Laura if she’d be willing to write a blog entry on social media and time efficency, and she very kindly complied. That entry is below. I’ll also add that you should absolutely check out Laura’s website and review her books – they are great reads.
People always come up with something to fill the time. When I was writing my first time management book, 168 Hours, several years ago, I wasn’t yet on Facebook or Twitter. These days, I spend a fair amount of time on both. I’m not quite sure what I did with my time before them, and maybe no one else knows either, but I do know that social media is highly addictive. When people tell me they want to spend their time better, many mention spending less time on the phone (and those compulsive websites) before anything else.
The problem with simply going cold turkey, though, is that for an increasing number of us, social media is part of our jobs. We need to interact with customers, readers, constituents.
On the other hand, social media can consume any amount of time you give it — and it is very easy to give it a lot.
So how should you manage your time on social media?
A good defense starts with a good offense. You want to make sure you create adequate space in your life for the deep work of your job and for fulfilling interactions with your family and friends. Do those things first; social media can fill in around the edges.
Then, it might help to designate times for checking. It’s easy to fall into a habit of checking social media every time you get interrupted. The problem is that in the modern workplace, that can happen a lot. You take a quick phone call — and then cycle through all your sites. You get up to go to the bathroom, and sit down and repeat the cycle. Next thing you know you’re checking dozens of times per day. Even if you do need to be on social media a lot for your job, that seems excessive.
So designate times — and then hold yourself accountable. If you’re trying to do fewer of the mindless checks that eat up time, make a hash mark somewhere every time you visit. Hopefully the desire not to fill a whole page with marks will keep a check on compulsive tendencies.
Finally, commit to using social media as a starting point, rather than as the main format of your relationships. If Facebook reminds you it’s a friend’s birthday, call and sing “Happy Birthday” instead of just posting a few words on her wall. If you follow on article link on Twitter that you find particularly thought-provoking, write the poster a real note thanking him. Then social media becomes actually social, rather than just more screen time.
Laura Vanderkam is the author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time. She is also the author of 168 Hours, and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. She blogs at www.LauraVanderkam.com.